CLEVELAND (AP) – The huge crowd will be red-clad, raucous and ravenous, hungry for a championship. The starting pitcher will be the same, and the air will be chilled and energized.
It’s only early April, but Friday’s home opener will feel a lot like last October to the Cleveland Indians.
Six months since their first postseason appearance since 2007 ended with a 4-0 loss to Tampa Bay in the AL wild-card game, the Indians, carrying expectations they’ll contend again, will begin their home schedule at Progressive Field against the Minnesota Twins.
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For All-Star second baseman Jason Kipnis, the sights and sounds of the home opener are unmatched.
”Having a sea of red come out, seeing nothing but Tribe colors,” Kipnis said, envisioning the downtown scene. ”Having all the fans show up to the ballpark, the excitement, the balloons, the fireworks, the music going on. The things going on in the streets around the stadium – there’s just a buzz around the ballpark the whole day."
After winning two of three in Oakland, the Indians will send Danny Salazar to the mound in the home opener – 20 years to the day of the ballpark’s first game – against Minnesota’s Mike Pelfrey.
Salazar began last season pitching for Double-A Akron before making a meteoric rise through Cleveland’s system. It ended with him starting the playoff game against the Rays, and he’s excited about the honor of getting things started at home in 2014. This outing won’t be nearly as stomach-turning as the 24-year-old’s previous one.
”It’s going to be a little bit better, there’s less pressure so I can be a little bit more relaxed,” said Salazar, who went 2-3 with a 3.12 ERA in 10 regular-season starts.
Still, there’s anxiety in getting off on the right foot at home. The Indians started poorly under manager Terry Francona in 2013, losing 10 of their first 15 and ending April at 11-13. It took them winning their final 10 games to finish 92-70 and sneak into the playoffs, and the Indians can’t count on being able to make up so much ground again.
This year, the club’s motto is ”Unfinished Business.”
”I think what keeps us so strong is the amazing guys we have on this squad,” ace Justin Masterson said. ”We’ve come together so well, it’s unlike any other team I’ve ever been a part of. Coming into spring, doing our thing, we had a lot of fun in spring. That was the biggest thing."
Salazar faced the Twins (1-2) in Minnesota on Aug. 12 and suffered his first career loss after allowing three runs over four innings.
Pelfrey went 5-13 with a 5.19 ERA in his first season with Minnesota in 2013, but he pitched very well against Cleveland. The right-hander went 1-0 with a 2.16 ERA in three starts, including two at Progressive Field in which he allowed a combined two runs while striking out 10 in 11 innings.
The Twins avoided a three-game sweep in Chicago on Thursday, scoring five times in the last three innings to pull out a 10-9 win over the White Sox.
Chris Colabello drove in six runs for the Twins and is 5 for 10 with three doubles this season.
”Obviously, every day we’re just going out and trying to compete,” Oswaldo Arcia, who hit a go-ahead triple in the ninth, said through a translator. ”We competed the whole series and looking forward to carrying this one over.”
Minnesota, which gave manager Ron Gardenhire his 999th career victory Thursday, lost its last six meetings with Cleveland in 2013.